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Bicycle Touring in the Rockies – 1951-style

Bicycle Touring in the Rockies – 1951-style

Submitted on behalf of: Barb

In July 1951, two young women from Kelowna set out to ride to Banff. This was before the Trans Canada Highway, before 18-speed touring bikes and before lycra. No internet, no cell phones. The following account is based on a journal kept by Barb and Myrt.

This adventure began on Dominion Day (July 1), 1951. After two days, the women arrived in Sicamous, a distance of 125 km. Barb had a three-speed bicycle and Myrt had a one-speed bicycle for their trip. From Mara to Sicamous, they commented, “ate dust and flew over washboard for the next 20 miles!!! … Six more miles and Barb’s bike gave out. We tied it together with bobby pin.” The next day, after luxuriating in a hotel for the night, they caught the train to Field, where they camped with sleeping bags but no tent, swatted mosquitos, “pinned up their hair for the night” and washed off the dust from the train in a stream. After a rainy night in the open, they made a fire to make Lipton’s soup and cocoa for breakfast. (Note that the suitcases were sent to Banff on the train.)

Gravel roads, dust, no spandex and no panniers – cycle touring in 1951

From Field they cycled in the rain to the Yoho-Lake Louise crossroads and got a lift to Wapta Lodge (now called Great Divide Lodge), at the summit of Kicking Horse Pass where they stayed in a cabin to dry out. For $1.35, they had a breakfast of muffins, coffee, grapefruit juice, bacon, eggs and grilled tomatoes. “We are now putting in the colour film and will use it up on the lovely scenery we are encountering. By the way, we found a large bolt to fix BJ’s bicycle….”

 

July 6, 1951 – Banff National Park – Barb writes, “Were we ever tired last night when we reached our destination…encountered some horrible hills, both up and down. The first stop was at Lake Louise…the place is really lovely. We then went to Moraine Lake, or as close to it as time, energy and the hills permitted. The road wasn’t very good….Rest places were short because of the pesty mosquitos, who would eat one alive. We finally got to Castle Mtn. and asked for a cabin at Bungalow Camp (now Storm Mountain Lodge). Only offer was one for $4.00 with no water. We then started out for Johnson’s Canyon, 4 miles away. There we were offered a loft above the cook’s sleeping quarters so we rolled out our sleeping bags and spent a most unenjoyable night.”

The next day they rode to Banff, where they spent 4 days exploring. They noted seeing a bear and two cubs, pressing their pants by putting them between the mattresses and meeting two young men from Toronto and N.Y. who were riding “high-powered English bikes” westward, having started in Calgary. “We also saw the Banff School of Art group of sketching one of the nicer mountains (Rundle)….We ourselves attempted Cascade Mountain from Mrs. Kelly’s front lawn, Myrt with oils, yours truly with pencil.” Unfortunately, the weather was persistently cold and wet.

 

Some of their impressions of Banff:

“The golf course spreads out for miles. There were a lot of people standing around like fence posts….it was very cold and windy and of course they could have become petrified from standing in one position for too long a time.”

“…we went to the Cave and Basin swimming pool. The cave is a horrible, smelly, hot place….”

“When we got to the (Norquay) chair lift everyone else took the lift but us…lucky us. Everyone else was drenched and freezing when they came down.” (They took a bus tour up to the top for $1.25. The chair lift was $2.75.)

For the next day, they travelled with some other young people to Calgary and took in the Stampede Parade (“after which a real stampede got underway as we all made a mad dash to the Bay for dinner”) and the sites and sights of the big city. More cold and rainy weather was noted, along with unimpressive fireworks.

On the return trip, Barb and Myrt caught the train from Banff to Sicamous, meeting up with a train conductor who had befriended them on the eastbound trip. They had a layover in Field to do some sketching with the train conductors to keep them company, and at Golden again ran into one of the male cyclists they had met in Banff, who rode the train to Revelstoke to avoid going all the way round the Big Bend of the Columbia River. By having train employees as friends, Barb and Myrt spent most of the journey in the open air alley-way, “truly wonderful to view the scenery from this vantage point.” The next day they took the train to Enderby, then “once again we were on our way by one of the earliest conveyances known to man (and woman!!). It was terrifically hot and sticky….”

On the final day from Vernon back to Kelowna it was “another hot, sticky day which made travelling rather gruesome.” After about 20 miles, Barb’s father arrived in his old truck and they gratefully piled in with their bikes and all their gear. “A birdie had reported seeing us struggling up a hill just out of Vernon and had been kind enough to call the folks….”

 

“The Moral: If you ever want to enjoy a holiday, this is the way to do it, and if you’re crazy enough to try it you’ll enjoy it.”